Crawford’s Tribe, Episode 3: Islamic Finance?
There’s a dance you do when you’re a summer clerk with a law firm. Or “summer associate.” In the summer of 2004, I clerked the full summer with the law firm that I’d ultimately join in September 2005. It’s a funny game. You have to be personable but not pandering, friendly but not naive, and on and on through a whole range of _____ but not _____ before they decide whether or not to let you join the tribe.
It’s doubly weird when you’re already older than most of your classmates, have already been working, and, in fact, may be older than some of the people you’re working for. It’s triply weird when you’re doing the whole thing knowing, or at least suspecting, that biglaw may not, in fact, be for you. But what else are you going to do? Hang a shingle? In this day and age?
The funny thing about lawyers is that we’re not all bad. It pains me to have to say this in the era of multimillion dollar bonuses for failed CEOs and unaccountable, er, creators of innovative financial instruments, but some people still have this idea that lawyers are somehow sketchy people. The truth is that, yes, lawyers are often very strange people, but not always. And there are certainly some real jerks in the law, but not always. In short, lawyers pretty much fall into the same ranges of nice and weird and mean and all the other adjectives that describe human beings. Pretty much.
“Ok,” said my coordinator for part of my summer with the firm, “I have a project for you. It’s with a partner in this group. It has something to do with Islamic finance.”
“Wow that sounds interesting!” I exclaimed in my best imitation of an enthusiastic babylawyer. And I swear to this day that it did. I still have a book on Islamic finance that I picked up on my own because it actually intrigued me. I’m weird, I guess.
It wasn’t a terribly interesting project. Practicing law is often profoundly boring, reading up on a set of rules and then applying them to a set of facts, day after day after day. But the intellectual challenge in rooting out a strategy can be fun. I mean, not this time. This was just a summer associate project, but I tried to be enthusiastic, and I guess I passed, because they ended up hiring me.
The coordinator in question was Mary O’Kelley. And Mary is one of the very good ones. One of the most genuinely good people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing in my life.
So naturally, when I showed up for work a year later, I didn’t recognize her right away. I blame (a) first day jitters and (b) having spent the preceding four months preparing for, taking, and recovering from the bar exam.
But she didn’t hold it against me. For a while, she was a great … I guess supervisor is the word? A senior associate in a very fast-paced, demanding, and technical practice group, and a good teacher. And eventually a very good friend.
With a shared appreciation for malapropisms (if you ever hear me say “uger” when I clearly mean “uber” I’m using one of the funnier ones that came our way) and for the magical ridiculousness of the rituals of being a biglaw lawyer, Mary and I – along with a core group of colleagues and friends – developed the kind of friendship that I never really expected to form in my adult years. You know how it is: you get older, you get busier, and the easy friendships of youth seem harder and harder to find. And so they become that much more important when they do form.
Eventually we both moved on, she to a smaller firm and ultimately to Chattanooga, me to an in-house job and ultimately to Tampa. Our core group scattered to new jobs and new cities. But we all stayed in touch, no longer colleagues but as close as ever. No more mischief and pranks with the (unknowing?) aid of the the incredibly patient and friendly proprietor of the shop downstairs but instead the shared lives of friends, watching children come into the world and grow up, watching our careers take strange twists and turns, trying to keep a merry band of friends together across too many miles.
And so Mary will be standing with me when I get married.
It’s humbling to know that someone like Mary – intelligent, kind, overflowing with decency – is my friend. And that she, along with Chip and Duffie, will be the friend who walks with me into this next, wonderful part of my life. I’m rarely at a loss for words, but my gratitude for sharing my life with friends like these … it fills me up with joy. I’m a lucky person to know these people, and luckier to call them my friends.
Oh, and it bears mentioning, if only to complete the theme, that she is also very tall. The pictures … they will be comical.